As I sat down to write this article, a dated song danced its way into my mind: The Police singing “Message in a Bottle,” with the famous lyric, Sending out an SOS. Well, sure, it’s a love song, but as a business leader don’t you love your employees? Don’t you want to better connect with all of them and see them succeed? Of course, you do. But these remote times have made it tough.
The word “remote” took on new meaning in over the past year. Remote teams used to mean teams based in far-flung places from Kolkata to Kuala Lumpur. Last year, as we were all forced to daily lock-down, social distancing, mask wearing, and confined to little video conferencing boxes, we found that our “remote” team members could have been living within three blocks of the office.
We Have a Motivation Problem
Most predictors are telling us that late 2021 will be a mix of remote and in-person offices. Even as more vaccines roll out, remote teams will remain in operation no matter their office proximity, as employees have come to desire the flexibility and lack of commute times.
However, whether the team is three blocks or 3,000 miles away, leaders recognize the challenges that come with motivating remote workers.
As America went into remote mode, Nicholas Blood, Ph.D. and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy said: “In-person collaboration is necessary for creativity and innovation. I fear this collapse in office face time will lead to a slump in innovation. The new ideas we are losing today could show up as fewer new products in 2021 and beyond, lowering long-run growth.”
Dr. Bloom did offer hope. He has found that motivated remote teams can succeed and improve productivity, as much as 13 percent. How? Companies must adapt with greater communication and team building.
Below are 5 tips embraced by successful organizations to help remote teams better motivate themselves.
- Engaged teams demand engaging work. What the Harvard Business Review discovered at the start of the lockdown was that emotional pressure and economic pressure were soaring as people worried about losing their jobs, paying their rent, and protecting their health. It affected motivation. What made the difference was creating an environment where employees felt they had a challenge they could help solve. Engage your remote teams with questions such as, “What are the areas where we should experiment to improve performance this week?”
- Never lose sight of the mission. Connecting the company’s mission to your team’s contribution, no matter how minor the task, reminds and reinforces they are making a difference. Entrepreneur and Forbes contributing writer Neal Taparia wrote (May 6, 2020): “[Your mission] is not something you share once and move on from. It requires constant communication to make sure your team rallies behind the mission. At my company, we send an end of the week email on the importance of our work, and why we think we’re making a difference. We show our team direct feedback from customers. It’s a reminder to keep the big picture in mind, and not get lost in the day to day.”
- Encourage mental and physical breaks. As the leader, rather than simply encourage your remote team members to exercise and take breaks, why not suggest a walk/talk meeting if weather allows? Why not begin a meeting with a two-minute mindfulness meditation? Your behavior will carry greater influence than your words when it comes to self-care.
- Reward individual and team success. As a manager and team builder, how are you rewarding your team’s success, especially with millennials and younger workers? Eventbrite, a nationwide research company, emphasizes in their study entitled Millennials: Fueling the Experience Economy that: “More than 3 in 4 millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable.” No budget for meals to be delivered for a celebratory virtual lunch? No problem. Research shows non-monetary symbolic awards such as cards, public recognition and certificates can increase intrinsic motivation. Why not, instead, host a virtual snack party where remote team members bring their own and guess each other’s go-to snack prior to the reveal. Encourage snack-size shared takeaways. Recognize each individual team member in a playful, creative manner. For example, the individual who exuded calm during tense moments wins the Cool Ranch Dorito award! Remember, nearly 80 percent of millennials want memories over things. During this semi-remote period, deliver warm memories – and appreciation.
- Stay Connected. Pre-pandemic, the Gallup organization produced an excellent piece of market research about the changing roles of managers, yet connecting and coaching will always remain a priority. In fact, in these remote times “managers assume that remote workers’ expectations are the same as in-office employees’, but there is one phenomenon that separates these two types of workers: isolation. Perceived workplace isolation can lead to as much as a 21% drop in performance.” Don’t disappear on your people. They need you now more than ever.
Organizations have learned valuable lessons about motivating remote teams this past year. While they didn’t have to resort to messages in bottles, they found motivational techniques to answer SOS calls.